‘The Black Female Reality’: artist speaks on representation

Rebekah Lindsay, Staff Writer

Artist Delita Martin visited Union this past week to discuss her artwork in her lecture entitled, “The Black Female Reality.” Her medium is mostly based upon printmaking, but each one of her pieces is an intricate balance of multimedia. She utilizes fabric and paper, hand stitching, charcoal drawings, painting, gelatin printing, written word and more.

Martin models the subjects of her pieces off of family members, individuals in history, and what she calls “spirit women.” She says, “I use my work to represent the women in my life as a whole.” Many of her subjects are based upon vintage and family photographs. She strives to preserve the importance of and the narratives of oral history.

Martin outlined her experiences regarding spirituality in art, processes in researching and creating a piece, and being the subject of art. In regards to being the subject of her own art, she spoke of the notion of the self, of how consciousness is a juxtaposition of the outward and inward existence.

Martin observed an excess of problematic representation of the black female body in media that has been present for centuries. She referenced racism in political cartoons as well as a horrifying soap commercial in which beauty is only allowed for women who are white. Martin called the visual representation of women she so often saw to be “demonizing.” Martin sought to fight problematic representation with the creation of her art, beautiful spiritual women, truer in nature to their realities.

A piece Martin created in 2008 is called “Adara: Exalted One,” in which she “pierces together identity through layers.” Martin emphasized that she likes to frame “her women,” to further create a homey atmosphere of acceptance, connection, and care. The woman in this piece is created with two layered prints of a spirit woman and a personal mentor of Martin’s. The two women are interwoven with one another, but physically they are separate entities. This creates a connection between the spirit world and the familiar.

“Luna: the Property of John Goodman” is a beautiful piece in which the print of an enslaved woman is framed by printed jars. Layered upon her is scrawled text, a document written by John Goodman, a leger in which he describes his purchases.

Martin created this combination with careful intention, to emphasize the ideology in which black women were historically reduced, a process in which “society identified a person as a piece of property.”

The mason jars were inspired by Martin’s grandmother, a collector of items and memories, placed and treasured in jars. However, in this piece, the jars were a symbol of the idea of freedom- you can see something, but you can not have it. Martin utilizes symbols throughout her works, birds are symbols for the human spirit, and moons are symbols of the female soul.

“Rebecca: to Bind” (2008) is framed by images of slaves taken from sketches from ships taking part in the slave trade and multiple identical birds. This connection of symbolism and historic imagery “connects the soul to the past, to history.”

Martin discussed an instillation that inspired an extensive work of her own created by Judy Chicago called The Dinner Party. She was both “drawn and repelled” to the exhibit, as it was truly beautiful, but lacked any representation of black women.

Martin created a response to Chicago’s piece in her breathtaking collection entitled “The Dinner Table.” This project took her 2 years to create, and it consisted of 300 plates individually painted and printed with faces of black women. Each woman was a person that Martin personally knew or met. The portraits were beautifully painted, and each plate “had to have history,” found or donated.

Martin further discussed her experience in being the subject of her art in her series of self portraits. “We as women become the spiritual other” and Martin embraces this, creating spiritual images of women and capturing her personal spiritual history. Her ethereal creations “Self Portrait: Artist in Transition,” “Travelers,” and “Soaring Hour” are multimedia masterpieces that are laced with intention (2017).

Martin paints or prints women primarily, always creating figures based upon actual people or women she calls “spirit figures.”

Even if she does not know the woman she is painting from her earthly life, she sees her created creatures as carrying a soul.